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posted: 3/19/2010 12:01 AM

RTA gets some state cash but not enough

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After calling the state of Illinois out on its failure to pay about $250 million to the Regional Transportation Authority, the agency has scored a victory of sorts.

RTA officials pointed out in early 2010 that the state owed them millions, and recently the agency received an installment of $48 million. However, in the time it took to get that check, the debt again crept up to around $250 million, RTA Executive Director Schlickman said.

Transit agencies aren't alone in waiting for cash as Illinois grapples with a massive budget shortfall.

Right now, the influx of $48 million is helping and the RTA, which funds the CTA, Metra and Pace, is in relatively stable financial shape, Schlickman said. But if no new payments emerge, it's going to be difficult, he acknowledged.

In the meantime, the agency is exploring how collaborating with other agencies and the private sector could make some long-awaited projects a reality.

At Thursday's meeting, the RTA board heard an update by consultants KPMG on public/private partnerships. Options range from naming rights to allowing a business to design and construct a new project that transit agencies operate while both share revenues.

Some of the ideas the agency is focusing on include:

• Creating a bus rapid transit system on I-55 and on the Tri-State Tollway;

• Creating an arterial rapid transit system on Milwaukee Avenue and Dempster Street;

• Purchasing more rail cars for the Chicago Transit Authority

• And building the STAR line, a commuter rail system connecting the North, West and South suburbs along I-90 from O'Hare to Hoffman Estates and to Joliet using the EJ&E Railway tracks.

Arterial rapid transit involves buses making infrequent stops and using transponders to prolong green lights, while bus rapid transit puts buses in a dedicated lane of their own.

Schlickman acknowledged the STAR line is a particularly difficult financing challenge and it's coming up against time constraints because the Illinois tollway wants to repair and rebuild I-90 soon. Right now, the money's lacking for transit agencies to pay their share of the cost for rail or bus rapid transit on the STAR line.

In April, Schlickman said he'd ask the board to allow the consultants to focus on the STAR line to see how partnerships with others might assist with funding.